Do wine vintages matter any more?

27 August, 2008
Page 23 
Wine writers Hugh Johnson and Oz Clarke recently stated that vintages are no longer an important factor in winemaking. Were they wrong to make this generalisation?
----=== The French winemaker Albéric Bichot ===managing director

Maison Albert Bichot

Our goal is to express terroir and vintage rather than a standardised product.  Today, thanks to technology and with investments (yield control, grape sorting etc), there are ways to avoid "bad" vintages - yet vintage remains essential.  The winemaker's role is to apprehend the vintage and its parameters, using oenological knowledge, means and reading of the year, in order to bring the best out of each vintage and erase what is not interesting. Nature is well made - often praised vintages are judged on their ability to age, while what are considered lesser vintages will bring pleasure to consumers and are more approachable as long as winemaking manage s to bring forward its qualities.----=== The Italian winemaker Stefano Girelli ===managing director

La Vis and Casa Girelli

I do think vintages are starting to matter less in Europe due to improved viticultural practices . Really good vineyard management can make a huge difference when it comes to the weather . In Sicily this year many wineries were down by up to 50 per cent on quantity, due to the extremely hot weather . However, at Santa Tresa our volume is approximately the same as last year as we have the systems in place to cope with extreme heat. In regions prone to more rainfall, such as Trentino, wineries are faced with a greater challenge. You can't eliminate the effect that weather conditions will have on a particular year, but you can definitely do a lot to counteract the effects of adverse weather conditions.---- === The Australian winemaker Neil Hadley MW ===export manager

Wakefield Wines (Taylors)

Vintage variation is definitely a factor in the fine wines of Clare. In a recent tasting conducted internally, we looked at five consecutive vintages of Wakefield St Andrews Cabernet Sauvignon and saw five radically different wines, for the most part reflecting the varying conditions that informed each vintage. The challenges in a wine region such as Clare are more to do with drought and heat than whether it rained or not at vintage. But there is little doubt that in the years when we had ample rains, good warm days and emphatic diurnal swings (the night-time to day-time temperature differential), we delivered the most emphatic and complete wine profiles in the glass.----=== The Californian winemaker Randy Ullom ===winemaster

Kendall Jackson

Vintage differences can easily be  more prevalent in the Old World growing areas as they have more challenges with the climate on a year-to-year, as well as day-to-day, growing season basis. These changes pretty much guarantee differentiation. The New(er) World areas, such as Chile, Australia and the US (western), are blessed with blue sky pretty much every day . Their difference is less notable, as the length as well as the start of the season provides some vintage differentiation. Regardless of where in the world you are, the smaller the source or volume of the wine produced, the greater the site specificity, thus the greater the vintage differential .